The Best Destinations Are Often Difficult to Reach, and St. Barth is no Exception
Tricky, but not impossible, especially for those who research and plan.
Unless you’re traveling from a small, nearby Caribbean island, chances are your plane is too big to land on St. Barth. Most visitors travel via Princess Juliana International Airport on St. Maarten (SXM) – the nearest island that can accept large planes.
Two airlines make the 10 minute flight from St. Maarten to St. Barth; St. Barth Commuter and Winair. Your ease of transiting through St. Maarten depends on which airline you choose, and how much you pack.
Timing the connection is difficult. Schedule at least 2 hours between your arrival and your connecting flight to St. Barth. You will likely need less time, but if your flight arrives concurrently with other large flights, the line at Immigration can be lengthy and slow. The walk from the gates to the transit check-in area and back to the gates is long and anyone with trouble walking will need to arrange a wheelchair.
Saint Barth Services assists with transiting through Saint Maarten and offers other VIP services for a fee. Worthwhile for anyone with medical conditions, large families or groups, or those unsure about transiting airports and making connecting flights.
St. Barth Commuter is lower cost with newer planes. However, they don’t have a ticketing arrangement with the big US carriers, so travelers must either pack in carry-on luggage and be considered In Transit, or go through Immigration at SXM, collect luggage, go through Customs and recheck their bags.
If you have carry-on luggage, you can follow the signs for Transit passengers after arriving in SXM and check in at Saint Barth Commuter. You proceed through airport security and wait at the gate for your Saint Barth Commuter flight. This enables you to bypass Immigration, Customs and the wait for baggage.
Legal rolling carry-on bags can be checked at the gate; there is a small area in the back of the plane for your smaller carry-on bags but you have to watch to be sure no one places their heavy smaller rolling bag on top of your laptop carrier.
Saint Barth Commuter has a good map on their site here that illustrates the transit connection at SXM.
Larger families or group should check into their charter service.
Winair is trying to be more competitive with Commuter prices, offers more frequent flights and can transfer your baggage from your larger flight to their planes, depending which carrier you select. When I arrived at SXM on January 11, the Winair representative was chiding me for selecting Commuter and insisted the prices were similar – although Winair’s site shows higher rates than Commuter.
Winair used to have older planes, and the flight was a lot scarier than on Commuter. Now they have what look like much newer planes.
Another option is to travel via San Juan (SJU). Tradewind Aviation offers premium service from SJU, St. Thomas and Antigua to St. Barth. Clients who use this service rave about their treatment and the flight.
Weight on these small planes has to be carefully controlled and your luggage may not end up on the flight with you. It is in your best interest to always have a bathing suit and even a change of clothing in your smaller carry-on. If you are checking a larger bag from your home airport straight through to St. Barth you definitely want to do this, especially if you are connecting along the way. Often your bag will arrive on St. Barth the same day you do – they will just put it on a later plane. St. Barth Commuter announced which passengers were impacted before we boarded the flight on January 11th so they knew what flight their luggage would actually be on.
Check out my Smooth Landing on Saint Barth You Tube Video here.
You can also travel from Dutch St. Maarten or French St. Martin to St. Barth by ferry. I have never done this; reportedly the ride to St. Barth is really rough, the ride back is easier. People with strong stomachs or not susceptible to seasickness have two options:
Great Bay Express operates a 65 foot monohull ferry from Phillipsburg on Dutch St. Maarten. The trip takes about 40-45 minutes.
Voyager makes the trip in 30 minutes from Oyster Pond, which can be reached by shuttle from the airport, and from Marigot on the French side of the island.
Advance reservations are necessary in high season and strongly suggested at other times. The ferry is very popular for day trips.
Or you can always book a yacht!
Before booking flights, make sure accommodations are available in your price range for your desired dates. There are no large hotels on St. Barth; the biggest hotel has 67 rooms. You might be able to find last minute specials off season; in high season you have to plan far ahead.
There are excellent options on the high end, many elegant hotel options in the middle, and not too much at the lower end of the price scale. Budget accommodations mean something slightly under $200 US and usually involve renting a room from the owner. Good luck finding a week not already reserved by a regular, annual guest.
Some hotels to consider are Christopher, Emeraude Plage, Les Ondines and Ilets de la Plage – all on the water (although the Christopher doesn’t really have a beach). The more budget friendly hotels are the Normandie on a hill above Lorient Beach, and The Sunset Hotel in Gustavia, the island’s main town.
Villas can offer great value – or not. Beachfront villas with $25,000/week price tags are common. However, you can find great properties for less perched on hillsides with spectacular views – often with infinity pools. There are many great villa rental companies on the island. Among the best are Saint Barth Properties, Marla, SiBarth, Wimco and Missimmo.
Getting to St. Barth can take a little work and advance planning, but once you’re there you will likely not want to leave and will find yourself returning to the island year after year.
Want me to book your trip? With strong relationships at some of the island’s best hotels, villa companies and car rental agencies, I can ease your trip to Saint Barth. Contact me via the form here or by emailing eva @ suitcaseready.com
What’s up with the name?
Often called St. Barth, St. Barths, St. Barts, St. Bart or the longer St. Barthelemy, Saint Barth Tourisme is now suggesting English speakers use “St. Barts.” I’ve been using St. Barth for so long, and for the annual dental meeting I run on the island, so I’m sticking with that.
Saint Barth Tourisme‘s site with beautiful photography; detailed information about the island including beaches, accommodations, events; practical guide to traveling to the island by plane or boat.
SBHonline – the self-proclaimed “insider’s guide to Saint Barthelemy” with an active forum of locals, expats and island regulars.
St. Barths Online – another good site for island information.
Fodor’s In Focus St. Maarten/St. Martin, St. Barth and Anguilla – 2014
Paradise Found: The people, restaurants and recipes of St. Barthelemy